War Widows Deserve Better From the Government

Maressa Brown
5

Just when you thought the Women's Movement had made some stellar progress, out comes news that some completely antiquated sexist law is causing some of us problems. In the most recent case, war widows are getting screwed by Congress.

You'd think it would be pretty simple. Husband dies in service, widow collects on insurance policy. But there's actually a nasty hitch: To get the check they must marry another man. Oh, but not just at any old time. Nope. The widows must remarry at age 57 or older. Those who remarry earlier miss out, as do widows who never remarry. And guess what? There are only about 700 women who fit the bill ...

As the AP explains, the crux of the issue is the widow's tax, which says a military spouse whose loved one dies from a service-related cause can't collect both survivor's benefits and the full annuity benefits from insurance the couple bought from the Defense Department at retirement. Instead, the amount of the annuity payment is reduced by the amount of the monthly survivor benefit.

That deduction comes out to around $1,000 a month for most of the widows.

Further complicating things is the remarriage requirement, which originated in Congress as an attempt to help the survivors retain certain benefits if they remarried late in life. Because everything comes down to money (or lack of money), and our country is seriously short on funds, relief has been limited to these remarried Boomers (just the ones over 57, of course).

Oh, but, wait ... It gets even hairier. For war widows who were denied the full benefits of their military insurance, the government tried to help by giving them back the premiums their spouses had paid for the policies. Okay ... But in these cases, if the widow remarries at 57 or older, becoming eligible for the benefit, she can only get it by repaying the insurance premiums the government had refunded to her. Agghh!

In an attempt to rectify the problem, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and 10 other senators have filed legislation. Nelson said in a public statement:

This has always been an issue of the military doing the right thing and living up to its promises. These policies were bought by servicemen and women to make sure their loved ones would be taken care of following their deaths. Not only is it a promise the government hasn't kept, but now it's sending bills to survivors. That's just outrageous.

It is outrageous! I literally couldn't help but exasperatedly groan outloud when I read what's been happening to these widows. They're damned if they do, they're damned if they don't! It's just an out of control mess. Every time the government tries to do something to help the widows (like offering them a taxable $50), it's just makes it more painfully clear that the government has fallen short on previous promises. Wow. It's just like every other red tape nightmare in Congress.

At the very least, they could start by eliminating the remarriage rule, which makes absolutely no sense. But then, of course, the government would have to pony up the dough for younger widows. Dough that no one really has. Sigh.

Hopefully, Senator Nelson and his colleagues will find a reasonable solution. That's the least our government owes the loved ones of our servicemen.

What do you think about the widow's tax?


Image via U.S. Army/Flickr

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